Poof! You’re a milkshake

Poof! You’re a milkshake

Old joke:  This guy finds an ancient lamp, rubs it, and a genie comes out.  The genie says, “I will grant you three wishes.”  The guy says, “I wish for a million dollars.”  Poof!  “Here is your million dollars.”  “I want to have a beautiful partner who loves me and with whom I can build a wonderful future.” Poof!  The dream lover appears.  “Wow, this is great!  I need to think about this last wish, but it’s so hot.  Genie, make me a milkshake.” Poof!  “You’re a milkshake…”

I think I was telling that joke when I was twelve, or so.  🙂

The moral of the story is that the way you understand what you are requesting may not be the way the granter understands it.

EBR (E-Book Reader) users are asking for a lot of things, but I’m not sure that they have thought about what might need to be surrendered to achieve those goals.  I thought I’d take this post to talk about some of the unforseen consequences that might result.

The wish: make it that no e-book costs more than $9.99

The assumption: Publishers will lower the prices to $9.99

The problem: Let’s say that the publishers are making 100 buckunits (I’m just making up that unit of measure…actually, I made it up replying to a comment recently) when they sell new e-books for $12.99.  They respond to the requests, and lower the price to $9.99.  They would then be making 76 buckunits.  Let’s assume that volume goes up because the price was lowered…so, let’s say that they are now making 85 buckunits.

Will the publishers just give up those 15 buckunits?  Not a chance…they need to make it up somewhere else.  What will they do?  Raise the price on books under $9.99.  Books that might cost you $5.99 before might cost you $7.99 now.  Another way to offer a book at a lower price would be to lower the costs…perhaps by forgoing things like proof-reading and active tables of contents, or pictures.  That’s a risk, though.  Raising the prices on the lower-priced books is probably a better bet.

The wish: If Amazon has a series, they should have all the books in the series

The assumption: Amazon can get the other books in the series in the Kindle store so that you can read the whole thing on a Kindle

The problem: Amazon can’t make books available…that’s up to the rightsholder.  With a series, it can be tricky: there may be different rightsholders for different books.  For example, a book might first have been published by one publisher.  Then, it did really well, and there was bidding for the second book.  That might go to a different publisher.  Another issue is that the rights for a book may have reverted to the author after a certain period of time.  If an author is not well-known at the time of a first book, less effort may be made to secure the rights to future books and for a longer period of time.  If the rights for the first book in the series have reverted the publisher has to renegotiate with the author…or the author’s estate.  That might not only be expensive, it might be impossible.  The rights for an e-book are not the same as the rights for a paperbook (p-book).  If the rights for a paperbook were sold in, say, 2000, the e-book rights were probably not sold at the same time.  A publisher may have the paper rights for the entire series, but not the e-book rights.  So, how could Amazon grant this wish?  By not carrying any of the books in the series.  When the twelfth book in the Vampire Chess Club series published, and e-book rights are obtained and a version prepared, Amazon could refuse to carry it…because the rights for volume 6 (which was self-published on a mimeograph in 1974) can’t be obtained…they were sold to a 97-year old bookie to settle a gambling debt, who has since passed on without a will.

The wish: e-books should never cost more than p-books

The assumption: E-books cost less to manufacture, distribute, and store than p-books.  Publishers should lower the price of e-books to keep them below the cost of p-books

The problem:  Price isn’t based on cost, or even on intrinsic value.  When you buy a videogame, it comes on a digital storage disc that doesn’t cost a dollar to make…yet, you’ll pay $50 for the game.  Of course, there were development costs, but they won’t add up to $50 per copy.  If people have been paying $7.99 for a paperback, why wouldn’t they pay $7.99 for an e-book?  Well, they do have different values…the most common answer you’ll hear on that is that people can sell the paperback.  But the e-book also has value that the p-book doesn’t have.  You can search it, change the text size, and if your house has a flood, that doesn’t hurt your e-book files (if you get them from somewhere that backs them up for you, like Amazon).  Still, there is no argument that this perception is out there.  How could publishers grant this wish?   By raising the price of paper books.  The cost of paper (a natural resource) tends to rise.  If more ecological demands for the production increase, or if volume goes down, both factors could affect the price.  If the higher royalties on e-books lead to royalty inflation on p-books, it may become less cost-effective to do, say, mass market books versus the larger “trade paperbacks”.  Publishers may eventually say you can have a fifty dollar hardback, a twenty dollar paperback, or a “cheap” (seven dollar) e-book.  What about people who can’t afford twenty dollars and don’t have an EBR?  They can get books from the library, or read public domain e-books on the library’s computer…hypothetically speaking.

So, when you make a request (directly, on forums and blogs, through a boycott), I do think commercial organizations listen.  They’d like to make their customers happy.  However, they want to do it in a way that doesn’t cost them anything.  They love to be able to say, “By popular demand, we’re giving our customers what they want…”  If a publisher guaranteed “no e-book over $9.99” or “no e-book will ever cost more than its paper version”, or Amazon (or another e-tailer) could say, “You’ll never start a series without being able to read all the books”, it would be all over the blogosphere. 

While people are celebrating, though, they might want to take a look in the mirror…hey, is that a straw?  😉

This post by Bufo Calvin originally appeared in the I Love My Kindle blog.  If you are reading this blog for free and would like to support it, just click here and then shop at Amazon.

2 Responses to “Poof! You’re a milkshake”

  1. danielle ereader1 Says:

    Bufo, very well said. I’ve been drafting such thoughts myself but you said it better, so I’ll just link to this I think!

    • bufocalvin Says:

      Thanks for writing danielle…and thanks for the kind words! 🙂

      I appreciate the link…I linked to your story on the M-Edge cover contest…neat!

      I think we may have seen this happen already on the prices on formerly lower priced books being raised. Amazon’s 70 percent royalty option for independent publishers will have a floor of $2.99, which will encourage a lot of those folks to raise their prices to that level. That doesn’t mean that traditional publishers (tradpubs) had a lot of books priced at a buck, but it’s a tide that raises all boats. If the breakdown was ninety-nine cent indies and $3.99 tradpubs, for example, $2.99 indies would probably cause $5.99 tradpubs…they want to suggest that they are worth more. Just a guess, though. 🙂

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